A couple of nuns who worked with the infirm had gone out to the country to minister to an outpatient. On the way back they were a few miles from home when they ran out of gas. They were standing beside their car on the shoulder when a truck approached.
Seeing these nuns in full habits in distress, the driver stopped to offer his help. The nuns explained they needed some gas. The driver of the truck said he would gladly drain some from his tank, but he didnt have a bucket or can.
One of the nuns dug out a clean bedpan and asked the driver if he could use it. He said yes, and proceeded to drain a couple of quarts of gas into the pan. He waved goodbye to the nuns and left.
The nuns were carefully pouring the precious fluid into their gas tank when the highway patrol came by.
The trooper stopped and watched for a minute, then he said: “Sisters, I don’t think it will work, but I sure do admire your faith!”
What is faith? Hebrews describes Abraham and the other company of believers as those who ‘lived by faith.’ They shined as lights in the world because they had faith. ‘Faith’ is a million dollar word, what does is mean? We use the word as either intellectual assent to doctrine or belief, or in more recent times, anti-intellectual assent to doctrine or belief. So someone might say, ‘Science (or history, or social-science, or anthropology) deals with the facts, but God and religion deal with faith.’
The biblical writers don’t bother with that kind of discussion. For the biblical writers, faith is all encompassing, faith is what you put your stock into. Faith is life. The author of Hebrews puts it this way, ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.’ The word ‘faith’ not only means to believe some kind of content, it assumes a trust, a resolute confidence, a calm courage.
For our purpose this morning we’ll look at three aspects of faith from our Scripture readings. You can use a sign that Christians have used for centuries, the sign of the cross. When you sign yourself with the cross, you are taking God into your mind, into your heart, and into your strength or will. Think of these as aspects of faith that includes your mind, your heart and your strength.
First, your mind. Now I must say at the outset that there is no ‘order’ to faith, that it starts with the intellect. When God called Abraham, it was the God who created the heavens and the earth. God was not the God that Abraham was familiar with, but the introductions had to take place. This was the God of the universe not just ‘a god’ from Abraham’s pantheon.
Our faith is not without content. We do have doctrine and when we say, ‘We Believe’ on Sunday morning, what we are affirming is a matter of life or death. This is what we believe and it is indispensable for the Christian faith and life.
A couple of years ago, a certain denomination voted at its general assembly to explore other possibilities for the naming of the Trinity that was more gender neutral like ‘mother, child, womb’ or ‘creator, redeemer, and sanctifier,’ etc. We are not free to do such things. There is definite content to our faith.
One humorous blogger said this:
Why all the fuss? Those three are only some of the possible alternative names. If they don’t appeal to you, there are plenty of others to choose from. Here are some others that the committee proposed:
1. Doctor, Lawyer, and Indian Chief
2. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva
3. Tinker, Evers, and Chance
4. Butcher, Baker, and Candlestick Maker
5. Lucifer, Satan, and Beelzebub
6. Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
7. Executive, Legislative, and Judicial
8. Gippetto, Pinocchio, and Jiminy Cricket
Two other proposed alternatives, “Peter, Paul, and Mary” and “Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria” were both rejected based on fears that they might constitute idolatry.
To have faith we must look at the content, we must use our minds. We believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We believe that Christ really did enter human history to change the world and to save us.
But we cannot stop with the mind. To have faith also is to bring God into our hearts. It is to believe with conviction. It is also to have our eyes on an unseen reality. ‘The conviction of things not seen’ as the author of Hebrews puts it. God told Abraham he would be blessed and Abraham believed with all his heart. The heroes of the faith left what they knew because they believed that God would bring, and is bringing a heavenly country where he reigns in peace and majesty. Don’t forget, most of Jesus’ preaching emphasized that the ‘kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ The faith of the heart is the faith that can look beyond this world to God’s work in the world. It is to see what previously could not be seen.
Last week was the feast day of the Transfiguration, commemorating when Jesus took Peter James and John to Mount Horeb and was Transfigured in their sight. His clothes became dazzling white and his glory shone throughout the place they were standing. They heard the voice of the Father and Moses and Elijah were there talking to Jesus. The Eastern Orthodox tradition has a unique insight about this event. They say that rather than Jesus being transformed, it was the vision of the apostles that was transformed. They were given a glimpse of who Jesus was and is–they were given a glimpse of reality. For a moment, the scales from their eyes were removed they could see the unseen. They could see things as they really were. ‘For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ said the apostle Paul.
I love the way the author of Hebrews describes those who have faith:
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Strangers, foreigners, seeking a homeland. There hearts were so full of God that they knew there was something better, something they could only grasp with their hearts. And therefore, ‘God is not ashamed to be called their God.’ Have you ever seen that verse before? Those who are not at home here, those who are life refugees in their own land, those who cannot get comfortable, who are antsy with the things of the earth. Those who look beyond to the heavenly city.
We have faith with all our minds, hearts and lastly, our strength. To have faith, we believe the promises of God, so much that it changes our lives. It is life altering faith. It is risk taking faith. The book of Hebrews says that by faith Abraham left all that he knew and all that he was in response to God’s command for him to begin a new nation. Later in the chapter Abraham is commended again for his willingness to sacrifice his own son because of what he heard God say.
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, and Abraham believed him, so much so that he left everything he knew behind to go to a land he did not know to live among people who were not his own. He had to take a risk.
In Genesis 12, the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
When God called Abraham, Abraham was far from perfect. Even on his journey to Canaan, Abraham lied and was deceptive. But there was something about Abraham’s heart that drew God’s attention, and the attention of all of us who have inherited his faith. When God called him, Abraham was compelled to follow. He could not help but follow. He did not know where he was going and only a promise told him why he was going. He had to take a risk.
This is life-altering faith. Faith that makes a difference. As one author has said, “to leave the certainties one knows and go out into what is quite unknown–relying on nothing other than the Word of God—is the essence of faith.”
God drove Abraham and gave him purpose and meaning. God changed the way Abraham lived.
Mind, heart and strength.
On more than one occasion in the gospels Jesus asks his followers to leave what they know for the life altering experience of following him. What does that look like for us? You can see the sense of urgency in the words of Jesus this morning.
Think of our own Anglican experience. By faith St. Patrick returned to barbarians who enslaved him to preach the gospel to Ireland. By faith he planted holy places, places of refuge from the violence of Irish life. By faith John Wesley and George Whitfield preached the gospel on horseback traveling through the perilous frontier of the new world.
By faith Jackson Kemper, risked the dangers of the American wilderness and established holy places of sacramental worship (much like Patrick) like Nashotah House in Wisconsin, which to this day faithfully preaches and teaches the Catholic Faith.
By faith a non-assuming woman named Ella Robinson, member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Denver, who started a Sunday School in her house over a hundred years ago. It was soon thereafter called Epiphany mission.
To have faith with all of our strength is to have life altering faith. It is to God where God leads.
It is not something to muster up, it is something to discern and then act upon. It is to take a risk.
Sarah and I have been helping a Sudanese boy named Emmanuel learn English this summer. Through God’s grace, we have decided to take him in for the school year, Monday through Friday. Amazingly, we were able to get him into a charter school and we are excited to be helping him with English. The way these events have taken place have blown me away.
What is more interesting, though, is the people that are now in our lives because of this one relationship. Do you think God had anything to do with this?
Sarah knows me well and she knows that I am not a risk taker. I drive under the speed limit when the kids are in the car. But God has taken steps way in front of me, and I must follow.
As followers of Christ, we must take chances, wise, informed, discerning chances of course, but the life of faith changes us or it does not. It alters us or it does not.
We saw the movie Evan Almighty last Friday and I heartily recommend it to you. It is funny and entertaining and not always theologically precise, but it has some great elements in it. Steve Carroll plays a congressman who is told by God (Morgan Freeman) to built an Ark, a big boat because a flood is coming. They go back and forth through several scenes until the modern day Noah finally gives in. The congressman’s campaign slogan was ‘Change the World’ and he had already made all the plans to get there. He had also put his life neatly together with a new house and a new Hummer.
When he was talking to God he said, ‘I’ll build your Ark but this is going to mess me up. What about my plans!?’
To which God replies, ‘Your plans?’ and then he breaks out in laughter.
This is often how things work and often why people hold back, but don’t hold back. Your mind, your heart, your plans, God wants them all!